Lawmakers and officials of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority blamed the COVID-19 pandemic for slowing down transition programs for the full operation of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) and triggering moves to postpone the first regular election in the region originally set in 2022.
In a joint congressional hearing on Wednesday, authors of the election postponement proposals also sought a three-year extension of the transition programs being implemented by the BTA.
Under the bills, the 2022 BARMM elections will be reset to 2025.
Taken up by the House Committees on Suffrage and Electoral Reforms, Muslim Affairs and Peace, Reconciliaiton and Unity were bills filed separately by Majority Leader and Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez and Reps. Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu (PDP-Laban, Maguindanao); Datu Roonie Sinsuat (PDP-Laban, Maguindanao) and Isidro Ungab (HNP, Davao City).
Mangudadatu, author of House Bill 8117, said the implementation of the normalization track and political track of the CAB has been hampered by the current health crisis.
He said the financial needs to address the COVID 19 situation has also prevented government to raise the P1 million financial assistance to be granted to each of the 40,000 fully-decommissioned combatants of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
“Three years are not enough for smooth transition, this must be extended for a longer period,” said Mangudadatu.
Ungab and Sinsuat backed Mangudadatu, as they cited the untimeliness of holding the 2022 elections.
“Because of COVID 19, resources of the government have been directed primarily to address the health challenges,” said Ungab.
However, Sulu Governor Abdursakur Tan slammed the bid to cancel the 2022 polls, saying that Congress must consult with the people of BARMM before making any decision on the bills.
“Many people now realize that the BARMM failed to perform. We have so many offices that are empty, and out of the 600 vacancies for its operations, only 64 have been filled,” said Tan.
He added: “The pandemic has become a convenient reason for this extension of the transition period.”
Representing BTA Chief Minister Al Hajj Murad Ebrahim, Executive Secretary Abdulraof Macacua appealed to lawmakers to pass the pending legislative measures.
“We have to consider that fulfilling the mission of peace in Mindanao will contribute to peace in the whole country,” said Macacua.
On the other hand, ARMM Member of Parliament Jose Ilorena disclosed that a number of requisites in ensuring smooth and normal operation of the BARMM have yet to be fully implemented by both the national government and the BTA.
According to Ilorena only P100,000 of the P1 million promised to MILF combatants has been distributed to them.
He also noted that local government finance is still “not yet completed” while civil and electoral codes have yet to be put in place.
Delineation of territorial jurisdictions has also not been carried out by the National Mapping and Resource Information Authority.
“We therefore appeal that on the basis of all these, we be given more time to put the needed legislation and organize the bureaucracy so that a meaningful governance in the BARMM can be achieved, and therefore, lasting peace can be achieved,” said Ilorena.